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Comparison of Frameworks for Analyzing Social-ecological Systems

Claudia R. Binder, University of Munich
Jochen Hinkel, Global Climate Forum e.V. (GCF) Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Pieter W. G. Bots, Delft University of Technology
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabrück


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In this paper we compare 10 established frameworks for analyzing social-ecological systems. We limited ourselves to frameworks that were explicitly designed to be used by a wider community of researchers and practitioners. Although all these frameworks seem to have emerged from the need for concepts that permit structured, interdisciplinary reasoning about complex problems in social-ecological systems, they differ significantly with respect to contextual and structural criteria, such as conceptualization of the ecological and social systems and their interrelation. It appears that three main criteria suffice to produce a classification of frameworks that may be used as a decision tree when choosing a framework for analysis. These criteria are (i) whether a framework conceptualizes the relationship between the social and ecological systems as being uni- or bidirectional; (ii) whether it takes an anthropocentric or an ecocentric perspective on the ecological system; and (iii) whether it is an action-oriented or an analysis-oriented framework.

Key words

anthropocentric; conceptualization; decision tree; dynamics; ecocentric; ecological system; framework; human-environment systems; social-ecological systems; social system;
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087